Sonia Gandhi calls for unity of Opposition in 2024 Lok Sabha elections
It is time to rise above political compulsions to realise the "ultimate goal" of winning the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, Congress president Sonia Gandhi told top Opposition leaders on Friday as she pitched for a broad unity of the anti-BJP forces.
The Congress will not be found wanting while working towards this goal, she said at a virtual meeting of the leaders of 19 Opposition parties, adding that the 75th year of independence is an apt occasion "to reaffirm our individual and collective resolve".
"Of course, the ultimate goal is the 2024 Lok Sabha election for which we have to begin to plan systematically with the single-minded objective of giving a government to our country that believes in the values of the freedom movement and in the principles and provisions of our Constitution," Gandhi said.
"This is a challenge, but together we can and must rise to it because there is simply no alternative to working cohesively. We all have our compulsions, but clearly, the time has come when the interests of our nation demand that we rise above those," she added.
Noting that the 75th anniversary of the country's independence is indeed the most appropriate occasion "to reaffirm our individual and collective resolve", Gandhi assured the Opposition leaders, saying "the Indian National Congress will not be found wanting".
The virtual meeting -- one of the biggest gatherings of Opposition leaders in recent times -- was attended by NCP's Sharad Pawar, TMC's Mamata Banerjee, Shiv Sena's Uddhav Thackeray and DMK's M K Stalin among others.
Mamata also urged the parties to keep their differences aside and work towards defeating the BJP in 2024. She proposed setting up of a core group to chalk out joint Opposition programmes.
The meeting convened by Gandhi came after the washout of the recent Monsoon Session of Parliament due to a united Opposition's demand for a discussion on the Pegasus snooping controversy, which the government declined.
The Congress chief said the Monsoon Session of Parliament was a washout entirely due to the government's "obstinate and arrogant unwillingness to discuss and debate urgent issues of public importance" such as the Pegasus row, a repeal of three "anti-farmer" laws, price rise, the assault on federalism and the institutions of democracy that affect each and every citizen of the country.
In spite of this, the session was marked by the determined unity that all the Opposition parties demonstrated for over 20 days in both the houses, she said.
"We functioned in a coordinated manner with daily discussions among our floor leaders.
"I am confident that this unity will be sustained in the future sessions of Parliament as well, but the larger political battle has to be fought outside it," Gandhi said.
She claimed that it was entirely due to the Opposition parties that the Constitution (127th Amendment) Bill was passed to restore the long-standing rights of the states to identify and notify the other backward classes (OBCs).
The Congress chief blamed the government, saying the bill was required to rectify the mistake it committed three years ago and a subsequent ruling of the Supreme Court.
She also said after their intervention, crucial changes were made in the policy of procurement of Covid vaccines, but as always, someone else has taken the credit.
Gandhi said Pawar has raised with the government the issue of creation of the Ministry of Cooperation, which is a blatant interference in the constitutional rights and responsibilities of the states.
The meeting was part of the Congress leadership's efforts to unite various Opposition parties on key issues before the country, including the upcoming Assembly elections in some states and the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI's D Raja and Sharad Yadav of the Loktantrik Janata Dal were also present at the meeting.
In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the Opposition parties said they will jointly organise protests all over the country from September 20-30.
"The forms of these public protest actions will be decided by the respective state units of our parties, depending on the concrete conditions of the Covid regulations and protocols existing in the states. These forms, amongst others, may include dharnas, protest demonstrations, hartals etc.
"We, the leaders of 19 Opposition parties, call upon the people of India to rise to the occasion to defend our secular, democratic, republican order with all our might. Save India today, so that we can change it for a better tomorrow," they added.
The leaders who took part in the meeting were from TMC, NCP, DMK, Shiv Sena, JMM, CPI, CPI(M), NC, RJD, AIUDF, VCK, Loktantrik Janata Dal, JD(S), RLD, RSP, Kerala Congress (Mani), PDP and IUML.
Leaders of AAP, BSP and SP were not present at the meeting.